Brain Scanning Just Got Very Good—and Very Unsettling

Seven years ago, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) decided to map all the connections in the brain. In 2010, the Human Connectome Project (HCP) was born. It has provided funding to the tune of $40 million to two collaborating consortia whose aim was to acquire and share high-resolution data of structural and functional connections in the human brain. The researchers have sought to understand, on a scale never before attempted, the neural pathways that make us human, and how changes in those pathways make us sick.

At a symposium yesterday at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, top researchers from the HCP came together to provide an update on the project’s achievements and future directions. To date, the consortia have released brain-scanning data from hundreds of individuals and that data has been used in more than 140 scientific publications. Perhaps even more importantly, the effort has produced impressive new tech, including unprecedented magnetic resonance (MR) hardware. Among the gadgets are high-powered scanners and customized head coils. In addition, there are legions of software for analyzing, visualizing and sharing the petabytes of neuroimaging data being generated.


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